Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fort Barrancas, Florida - First Hostile Shots of the Civil War

Note: We are observing Confederate History Month by looking at historic sites and points of interest in the South related to the War between the States.

It might require a little rewriting of history, but the first hostile shots of the War Between the States were fired by U.S. troops in Florida, not by Confederate troops in South Carolina.

On January 6, 1861, sentries at Fort Barrancas, an important post protecting Pensacola Bay and the Pensacola Navy Yard, observed shadowy figures approaching the main gate of the fort through the darkness. Barrancas was then the only one of the harbor fortifications at Pensacola occupied by the U.S. Army in any strength at all. The nearby posts of Fort Pickens and Fort McRee were held only by caretakers and the Advanced Redoubt, a subsidiary work to Fort Barrancas, was not occupied at all.

The men occupying Fort Barrancas that night normally occupied more comfortable quarters in the nearby Barrancas Barracks, but Lt. Adam J. Slemmer had moved them into the main fort after hearing rumors that state militia troops planned to seize the fort. According to a report filed just three days earlier, Barrancas was heavily armed. The Ordnance Department in Washington had reported on January 3rd that the fort contained 44 seacoast and garrison cannon and 20,244 pounds of gunpowder.

The rumors that Southern troops might try to seize the fort, however, had the sentries on edge. As they saw the unknown men walking onto the drawbridge on January 6th, they reacted quickly. After the mysterious figures did not respond to their calls, the sentries opened fire. The figures disappeared, but the first hostile shots of the Civil War had been fired. Deciding to move his command to the more secure Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, Lieutenant Slemmer began preparing to evacuate Fort Barrancas the next day.

It was later disclosed that the figures on the drawbridge had been volunteer soldiers from Alabama who approached the fort after hearing a rumor that it had been evacuated by the Federals. Instead they found themselves facing the firing end of the muskets of Slemmer's sentries and scrambled for cover. No one was injured in the incident, which happened before the firing on the Union ship Star of the West by cadets from The Citadel a short time later and more than three months before the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

To learn more about Fort Barrancas, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortbarrancas1.

No comments: